What sort of Bible do you own? Perhaps, like me, you own more than one version: different sizes; different translations; perhaps a study or devotional edition. Yet, all of these versions probably have one thing in common: their design.
When you open a Bible, what does each page look like? A number of features are pretty much standard, like chapter and verse numbers, section headings, double columns, and perhaps margin notes or cross-references.
But consider this: what other publications actually look like that? The closest thing to it is probably an encyclopedia or textbook. However we’re using our Bibles, their pages have the feel of a reference book or technical manual — like a mere repository of information.
The numbers that dot the pages of our Bibles were added in the Middle Ages. Of course, those numbers have a good and proper use, making the Bible easy to search. However, the books that make up the Bible were originally written as whole texts, without any chapters and verses at all. When you think about it, those little numbers add up to a lot of extra material!
And the thing is, this formatting isn’t just neutral — it profoundly influences the way we read. Section headings constrain meaning, chapter divisions often don’t match the flow of the text, and verse numbers imply that the Bible is somehow especially nutritious when taken in tiny, bite-sized slices!
So then, I’m not surprised that many Christians find the Bible hard to read! Of course, the Bible is a library of ancient documents and we shouldn’t expect it to be neatly straightforward. However, the design of modern Bibles has made Scripture much less accessible than it ought to be.
In other words, the real issue for today’s English-language Bible readers is not translation — of which we have an overabundance! — but design.
In light of this, I’m thrilled that Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society) has been rethinking Bible design. In 2007 they created The Books of the Bible, a fully fledged readers’ Bible. It quickly became my everyday Bible after I discovered it earlier this year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
The idea of The Books of the Bible is simple: remove all the clutter of numbers and headings, leaving just the original text, with a few paragraph breaks to reflect literary progression. This leaves the pages of Scripture looking more or less like a trade paperback novel — easy on the eyes and a reader’s delight! This format is complemented by a useful reordering of the books. The translation is the ever-versatile NIV.
This is not a new idea and various readers’ Bibles have appeared over the years. However, The Books of the Bible is the first that promises to bring true readers’ Bibles into common usage. And God’s voice isn’t confined to ‘quiet time’, so Biblica has complemented The Books of the Bible with another initiative called Community Bible Experience, designed to promote Bible reading together.
The Books of the Bible enhances both the way we read and the way we think about reading the Bible. Study Bibles will always have a place as reference works for detailed examination, but smooth reading — and listening — requires a proper readers’ Bible, unencumbered by extra bits and pieces. With a readers’ version like this, we may indeed see just how wonderful these God-breathed words of life really are.
The latest publication of The Books of the Bible isn’t available in Australia at the time of writing, but you can learn more about it at http://www.biblica.com/thebooks.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.